The lymphatic system is made up of a network of thin tubes that run throughout the body called lymph vessels and oval shaped organs called lymph nodes, which collect and filter lymph. As blood flows throughout the body, a thin, yellow fluid called plasma leaks out from blood vessels and mixes with interstitial fluid and water to surround the cells in different tissues. This mixture contains food for the cells, blood cells that are important for immunity, and also waste put out by the cells. It drains into the lymph vessels, after which it is called lymph, and is then transported to lymph nodes, which contain immune cells. Since the lymph system doesn’t have any way to move the fluid on its own, it relies on the movement from muscles in the body to push the fluid along, and valves keep the fluid going in the right direction.
Once in the lymph nodes, the fluid is filtered and disease-causing organisms are killed. Other organs that work with this system include the spleen, which takes out dead or damaged red blood cells and contains white blood cells to fight disease, and the thymus, which produces more white blood cells. The tonsils and adenoids also work with this system to protect the digestive system and respiratory system specifically.
Since the lymphatic system plays such an important part in immunity, problems with lymphatic drainage can cause serious health conditions. When lymph vessels or nodes are damaged or missing, the fluid cannot move quickly away from an area of the body.
Therapeutic Lymph Drainage
Manual lymph drainage (MLD), is a type of gentle massage which is intended to encourage the natural drainage of the lymph from the tissues space body. MLD consists of specific movements that are used to lightly push lymph through the system, helping it drain out of the tissues and move on to the lymph nodes for filtering.
This treatment is commonly used to help with:
- Lymphedema, which can be caused by heart problems, wearing tight clothing, and injuries like sprains or fractures.
- Lymphedema which sometimes happens as a side effect of chemotherapy and surgeries done to remove breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
- Lack of energy, or sluggish immune system
Though this treatment can be very helpful, it is generally not suitable for people with certain types of cancer, since it could encourage cancer to spread in the body. It is also not suitable for those with serious heart disease or circulatory problems, serious infections or internal bleeding. Some massage therapists still do lymphatic drainage with people with these conditions, but may only work with one part of the body instead of the full body.